How can evil come from G-d?
Rabbi Y. OliverThere is an age-old question: how can evil emanate from an All-Good Creator?
The key to answering this question is understanding the concept of divine speech. What does the verse mean when it says, “G-d said, ‘let there be ... ’” during the six days of creation? Of course, G-d has no mouth, lips, or vocal chords with which to speak, as it is one of the 13 Principles of the Torah (as famously formulated by Maimonides), that G-d possesses no form. If so, in what sense can it be said that divine creation resembles the process of human speech?
Furthermore, if an analogy is employed from the physical realm, why is it specifically written that G-d spoke, and not that He thought, or another metaphor?
This can be understood from the Kabbalah, which develops this analogy: In speech one communicates his inner thoughts to another person. He accomplishes this via the combination of different words, which in turn consist of the combination of different letters, all carefully arranged.
Similarly, G-d sought to create an entity that would feel itself to be separate from Him (although in reality “There is nothing else” but G-d—Devarim 4:35). Thus, creation is compared to speech, and this is the meaning of G-d’s statements, “Let there be ... ” in the account of the Creation. There were altogether ten such utterances, with which the entire universe was created. Moreover, the Baal Shem Tov teaches that these utterances are constantly recreating everything in existence.
But if these utterances created everything, why are only certain creatures listed, and the vast majority omitted? Why are rocks, for instance, not mentioned?
The answer, as explained in the Tanya, is that these utterances were only intended to create vast cosmic forces. For instance, the utterance “Let there be a firmament” created the general division between the firmament and the earth, but not the details of those entities. Similarly, “Let the earth put forth plants” imbued within the earth the general potential to produce plant life; it did not create individual plants. And so on.
Thus, the divine energy in these utterances was far too intense for individual creations, such as rocks, to contain. The only way to create these creatures was for G-d to diminish the intensity of the utterances to the point that the individual creations could handle the energy received.
Here we return to the analogy of speech. If one wishes to communicate in a hidden way, one will encode one’s words. Although this is a meaningful form of communication, one’s intention is hidden. Only the code can uncover the encoder’s intention.
Similarly, G-d diminished the tremendous spiritual energy of the Ten Utterances by “encoding” them in various ways. In fact, the Hebrew name of each particular object is the life-force of that object, after having been “encoded.”
Specifically, there are three ways that the intensity of this life-force in the Ten Utterances can be reduced, each one “encoding” successively more than the previous one:
1. Rearranging the letters of the word into a different word.
2. The Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation), an ancient kabbalistic text, explains that there are 231 “gates” through which each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is substituted for all the other letters. How does this work? Each of the 22 letters can be substituted for another 21 letters, equalling a total of 462 possible permutations. However, this figure is halved to 231 because the same two letters can be substituted forwards and backwards. For instance, the aleph, the first letter, can be substituted for a beis, the second letter, and vice versa. Together, the forwards and backwards substitutions are called a “gate,” another way in which G-d substitutes the Hebrew letters.
3. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a number. Thus, a word or phrase has a certain numerical value, and can be substituted for another with the same value.
But why is the analogy of speech used, and not thought? Doesn’t thought also contain letters and words, like speech? The difference is that thought is an internal phenomenon, on its own not accessible to others. In contrast, G-d’s creation of the world involved connecting with forces that regard themselves as external to Him. That’s why this process is compared to speech, which involves going out of oneself and communicating to others.
This answers our original question. Evil is the result of diminution after diminution of the divine life-force—encoding after encoding. On a deeper level, evil too exists by virtue of the divine sustaining energy within it, as in all creatures. But from the perspective of man, this energy is so hidden that not only does he not see it, but he sees the opposite: a force that disobeys and rejects G-d.
Evil exists in order to tempt us. Thus, by overcoming the temptation to evil we reveal the purpose behind it. We thus also reveal the inner truth that the source of life of the evil force is the divine energy constantly recreating it.